Episode #029: Evolutions in Corporate Social Responsibility with Chris Jarvis

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you.   

Tobi: Welcome everybody to Volunteer Nation! I am so pumped because I get to interview one of my favorite people to chat with, and I’m not even lying, Chris! 

Chris Jarvis is here. He’s laughing now. No really, we, we got to catch up a couple times during the pandemic and we always have a really good time. So I know we will now, too. 

Chris Jarvis is co-founder and chief strategy officer at Realized Worth. He’s also the executive director at the RW Institute. Realized Worth is a consulting firm that focuses on the design and implementation of a transformative employee, volunteer, and giving initiative.  

And he works with clients all around and they really do. He’s not lying when he talks about transformative, he really does care about that.  

His work with organizations of all sizes from around the world is helping mobilize employees to make meaningful contributions in the communities where they live and work.  

And in 2015, Chris’s and his partner Angela Parker, launched the RW Institute, RWI In short, a think tank focused on advancing the practice and theory of corporate citizenship. So welcome Chris to the pod.  

Chris: Thank you so much. It’s good to be here with you. Thank you for having me. And hello to everybody listening to the show.  

Tobi: It’s gonna be fun. I’m thrilled to have you talk about corporate social responsibility or CSR. We might shorten it for that. If you hear me say CSR, that’s what I mean.  

Corporate social responsibility and how it’s changing in concept, approach, even terminology. You know, I think most of our listeners are not up to speed necessarily on what are the emerging trends and what are the inside conversations folks are having in that specific niche-of-a-niche-of-a-niche of the volunteer world. 

So I’m excited to have you with your expertise here, to lay it out for people and break it down so our non-profits can keep up to speed on what’s changing so that they can respond in kind and be ready and to make the most of these types of partnerships and collaborations. 

But before we kick it off though, I introduced you and where you work, but I’d like maybe you could tell the audience a little bit more about yourself and the work you do.  

Chris: All right. So a little bit more about myself. Uh, first of all, “about,” so you’ve already sussed out that I am not American grown. It’s called a dipthong in the United States. It’s an elongated dipthong.   

You know, “process” or “about,” but we have short ones. “About.” That’s cuz I’m Canadian from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve been in this space for a little while. I live in Baltimore now. I’ve lived here, uh, since 2018. Great city. 

And I was in the non-profit side of things about 18 years. And really that’s the reason I even got into this, is we tried to build a business to help nonprofits, to be honest, at the very beginning.  

We were turned away at the time. And you know what? In the initial conversation, it was interesting because I was saying, based on my experiences on the nonprofit side, I think there’s an opportunity here to work with volunteers in a way that meets them at their highest level of contribution. 

And not everybody’s coming in with the same experience, the same interests, the same history, lived experience. And she thought that was great. She was just, “That was great.”  

But she was the executive director and often the janitor and sometimes the fundraiser and the volunteer manager and she said, “I have neither the time nor the budget to develop a program. I couldn’t possibly on a project didn’t support.” 

But she said, “You should go talk to the bank. They come here with 200 of their employees twice a year. They spend more money on banners than they give us and take a few pictures, after they’re done eat a hotdog. Then they leave and it’s part of their CSR program.” 

And I said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, I’ll do that.” And I left and thought, what is CSR? Like, this is 2008. I honestly had no idea what she was on. So I went to, I walked across the – no, it was a block away.  

I went to the bookstore Chapters at the time in Canada. Looked up CSR. I spent a lot of time reading about customer service representatives. Wrong. That was the wrong topic, right?  

Then I found it, then I looked it up online a little bit, yada, yada, yada. And ta-da! I’m on the show with you today! But we had originally planned to work with nonprofits to ensure that volunteers were contributing, like I said, at their highest level. 

Tobi: Yeah. As a person who does that, I can attest. It’s a challenge sometimes. It’s a challenge. So this is fantastic. I hope that our listeners are gonna get a lot of value, and I know they are just thinking about how they can best really collaborate with the business community. 

And, you know, when I worked in non-profits, I also had a storied career in non-profits before I started VolunteerPro and Tobi Johnson and Associates. I worked, I’d have have corporate partners step up and wanna do stuff with us. And a lot of times we’d get a gift, a contribution after the fact without any nudging from me whatsoever. 

I’d hear from the development department, hey, you know what? This organization, this company just donated. Their employees voted, they get to vote on their corporate donation. Right? Every year. and of course, because they volunteered with us and they had such a great time. it was a slam dunk. 

Chris: So they’re like, you’re top of mind.  

Tobi: Yeah, exactly. So, but I’m not really sure all non-profit orgs have really truly tapped into the power and potential of corporate social responsibility in the traditional sense, let alone how it’s evolving and keeping up with how it’s evolving. 

So maybe we should kick it off with a little bit of discussion of some of the basics just to help everybody get grounded. You’ve been working in CSR for over a decade. What initially attracted to you besides, you know what, “this is gonna make more business sense for me?”  

Chris: Yeah. That, that was it!  

Tobi: See, I told y’all he’s sassy! I knew we were gonna have this kind of fun conversation.  

Chris: That was it. That was it. Well, I know you saw opportunity. I know you saw it  Well, you know what? This is like, Tobi, because you’ve done a great job of building the kind of business that I had intended to build at the beginning, but you were successful. 

I ended up in something else, but the thing that attracted me to the field sort of came, it evolved a little bit as we began to learn about CSR and then began to see what companies were doing. 

This is 2008 doing the economic downturn. So a lot of companies were…you remember Toyota? They had a really interesting thing where instead of shutting down a plant, they just made everybody work a 40-hour week in the community.  

Just an entire month of volunteering at that plant in the community. Now, I don’t know if it was good volunteering, if it was informed. But there was a sensibility to, “well we can’t get money, so let’s throw people at the problem because we need to keep them anyways.”  

So it was weirdly a good time to get into this because everybody started asking a question, Wait, how do you do this? And we did have some insight as to, you know, the three stages of the volunteer.  

How do you create space for people to move from an extrinsic motivation to be there to something intrinsic? And so we did have that. We had intended on working with non-profits on it but easily moved over, it turns out, to the CSR side. 

And honestly at the beginning, a lot of people just…Okay, so I remember talking to Brian Deville, People on the call won’t know the word benevity, but I’m gonna explain a couple of these different platforms and why everybody on this call probably needs to know about them.  

But at the time he had said they were building the tool and it was just gonna be for giving because there’s no money in volunteering, right? Like there’s no, there’s no, you can’t charge a fee. You can’t take a percentage of a volunteer hour, right?  

So what, how is a tech platform gonna…? And at the time we even said, Look, if you don’t have giving and volunteering, let alone grant making, that’s the future. And he knew it, he saw it, and yada, yada, yada. Now it’s just the norm, right? To have these things kind of clumped together.  

There’s about $8 billion invested in technology to support it. It has moved so fast over the last 10 years. Initially, I didn’t get into it because I was attracted to it. I got into it for fairly rudimentary reasons, because I felt like I had a contribution and I was looking for space to make it. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. Well that’s like any entrepreneur sees opportunity, right? Attracted like, you know, bees to honey, right? That’s how we work as entrepreneurs.  

Chris: Yeah. And now the thing that attracts me to this space is the idea that an entire company or business, they can be making widgets, buying widgets, selling widgets. That’s what they do. Buy services, sell services.  

They make money. This side of the company, which is usually a very small group of people, they’re laying the foundation for the future of the nation. They’re building, they’re nation builders.  

Other people are building businesses and selling stuff. But the folks in the companies working with CSR, whether they have embraced it or not, , they’re nation builders and the future of the species.  

I’m not making an exaggeration, depends on what kind of contribution they can make. And I find that very attractive. Now, that’s a great lever to feel like I’m helping with.  

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. So how would you define corporate social responsibility in today’s terms and what becomes possible when you know, what’s the aspiration for it?  

What becomes possible when the business, community and nonprofit organizations partner to good effect? So let’s start with the first one. How do we define it? And then what’s possible when it happens well? 

Chris: Sure. Well, corporate social responsibility, CSR, actually goes by a number of different…do you say monikers? Is that the little, uh, titles? Is that okay? Right, I’m using it.  

Tobi: We’re gonna go with it. 

Chris: Fairly unfamiliar with…so I don’t sound dumb afterwards. But yeah, you could talk about community investment at a company. You could talk about corporate citizenship. You could talk about corporate responsibility. Just leave out the “social.”  

You could talk about, and this was a big topic, I remember 2010, Boston College was going with corporate citizenship. It’s in the name now. Other groups with went with CR. CR executives, that kind of thing. Corporate responsibility executives.  

By and large, everybody was trying to move away from the word philanthropy. Right? And yeah, nobody wanted to do, And then “shared value” came into the picture led by Michael Porter from Harvard and Mark Kramer, who’s with EFG, I think it is. 

I always get that wrong. But it’s a fairly large consulting firm, and they do, they have something called a shared value initiative. And the idea is that companies will do their business or make products in a way that makes them money, but also benefits the community, which is kind of where all this kind of merges together. 

But the problem with all of these things is as long as they’re tied to, I don’t know how to say this, Tobi, but the currently, let me just suggest this part. ESG, which is another moniker, environmental or environment social and governance. So those are the three things that investors and funds look for. 

They look for ESG reports, and over the last two years, most CSR, not most half of the CSR folks, I know their titles have changed now that reflect ESG.  So my last observation, so out of what it’s called and what we do, that’s less important at this point. 

But I do want to, just for the audience, explain corporate social responsibility was trying to look ahead at how we saved the world and the planet and ourselves, and that shared value was resonant in that as well.   

ESG looks back and says, is the environment gonna hurt our business? Is the social climate gonna hurt our business? Nope, we’re good. It actually doesn’t care that it’s making progress. It just needs to make sure that it’s in line with what all the current expectations are. 

So you’ll see diversity and human rights stuff in there, and that’s all really important, but it’s not forward looking. So right now, it’s in a bit of a evolution. Is it, are we just gonna look at the next three quarters and look at our risk with ESG?   

Or are we going to try and do what corporate social responsibility was aspiring to do, which is how can companies work with communities to address critical issues that on their own could never possibly be addressed because they’re too multifaceted.  

That’s like whack-a-mole.  You know, you get one problem, but another one pops up. Everybody needs to hit kind of at the same time, these problems. So these partnerships really matter. That’s what CSR was about. ESG isn’t really about that. 

Tobi: Yeah. It kind of feels like it’s more about the shareholders and the company’s health. CSR had to be partly about the company’s health. You’ve gotta have a profitable company to be able, but you also need a profitable community to make a profit, right? 

Your community needs to have, needs to be, for example, economically stable in order to purchase goods and services from your company. You know? So it’s sort of a give and take. We have to create an environment in our society that makes participating in the marketplace possible. Right?  

Chris: And unfortunately, a lot of the folks who have their hands on the wealth in these countries, including the United States, are not entirely aware of a lot of things.  

They’re just, you know, focused on the bottom line. That’s what they were hired to do, and they’re good at it. And if that’s where the company’s going, we’re gonna do it.  

So our work right now is to work with companies to try and from the inside out, shift culture so that the more employees get involved in the community, the more they’re going to start asking questions like, “Why aren’t we doing more of this?” 

And hopefully, the movement within companies, the sensibilities of the employees themselves will hopefully resist this diminished and fairly pedantic approach to that people are taking with ESG. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. What were some of, prior to the pandemic, what were some of the common approaches to CSR for folks who haven’t really had a lot of experience? So what are ways that businesses are partnering with nonprofit?  

Chris: So there’s three things when we work with companies, and I should say for your audience, we’ve worked with over a hundred companies and they’re way bigger than we should be able to work with, to be honest. 

Like we’re just a small staff of under 20, you know? We did a stint with Walmart, for example, 1.2 million. So there’s a sort of an unevenness there that you feel in all of this. But the traditional approaches across the board for these companies are gonna have basically three areas, and they break down into subsections. 

Grant making, which is what most of the folks on this call are interested in. Workplace giving, not invented by the United Way, but definitely championed by it. And because in workplace giving, and this is where we get into some of the nuance, there’s matching and there’s opportunities there.  

And I find the lot of the nonprofit that I talk about are vaguely aware of matching or that kind of thing as different from grants, but maybe there’s a nuance we could explore. 

And then the third one, which I find most nonprofits suffer through but aren’t really excited about, is the employee volunteering, right? And getting employees out in the community to do, we call it approachable or inclusive volunteering, which is just show up. 

And because we don’t need any specific skills, we’re just gonna do this park or we’re gonna work at a food bank. Those are very easy entrance opportunities. And when they’re done right, they’re done well. They can be very transformative. 

And then skill-based. Now the problem with skill-based volunteering is, it sounds so good. Tobi, you must have done shows on skill-based volunteering, right?   

Tobi: Uh, well I haven’t done any podcasts on it, I don’t believe, but I’ve written blog posts and I’ve offered trainings on it. And I have to say the uptake isn’t very big on the non-profit side. They’re usually like, nah, not that interesting.  

Chris: Right. Okay. So why do you think that is? Before I give you my soliloquy here?  

Tobi: Oh, why do I think that is? Well, I think number one, it’s a mindset thing. It’s hard to get outside of your day-to-day, like, “I’ve gotta get this done right now” versus…usually a skilled volunteering opportunity is a growth opportunity.  

So like, we’re figuring out a new way to evolve our marketing, or we’re trying to figure out, or we’re trying to have someone come look at data and give us an idea of how to use AI better, or AI at all. Or how to analyze our audience and how we can better meet their needs or our volunteers.  

It’s usually a level up of capacity-building that the nonprofit just doesn’t have time or energy or the vision to see. So in my mind, it’s not serving an immediate need, it’s serving a more medium- to long-term need. 

Chris: That’s kind of like a structural or capacity issue that the nonprofit may have. And sometimes the skills can be programmatic, like I need some, people might call mentoring or financial literacy skill-based volunteering in a mentoring role kind of thing. 

And that has to do with delivering program against objectives and that kind of thing. But by and large, I think you’re right. Most we think of skill-based. You know, I’m a nonprofit and I want a better website. I need somebody with skills to help and do that.  

Right? And you said it’s hard, the uptake’s low. Why do you think the uptake is so low? Beyond what you said, like not on the volunteer skill-based side.  

Tobi: I think it’s on the nonprofit side. The leader of volunteers just says, “You know what, I don’t have time to dream this up. I don’t have time to supervise or manage support. I’m not even sure if I know what to where to find these folks. And I’m not sure how I communicate what I need, cuz I don’t really know what it is in the first place.”  

That’s what I think. It’s not meeting immediate need. I need, you know what? I need people to come down this Saturday and do XYZ. I don’t need somebody to dream up a new marketing message for us. You know?  

Chris: Yes, Yes. It is the same reason, realized where it started. I sat down with this executive director and she’s like, “I love this idea. I can’t do it. Nobody here has time to do it. And you being involved is just gonna cost us one way or another, even if it’s not in fees.”  

There’s just the cost of our time and attention and all the emotional energy. So what we find: skill-based volunteering is talked a lot about in terms of we have something to give. But companies haven’t quite evolved to the point where they take responsibility to help the nonprofit receive it. Does that make sense?  

Tobi: Uh, it totally makes sense.  

Chris: What if skill-based volunteering, and I know there are some groups that have produced some really great materials, Common Impact for example. Charles Schwab partnered with them and they have a phenomenal skill-based suite on their site.  

Tap Root has done some great work on this, and in fact, their pro bono work kind of elevates it a little bit, and they’re a good voice in the community for this. And, you know, there’s a few others. There’s Catchafire and some others. 

But the difficulty is on the receiving side, and it’s just hard to scope a project. Now I have, I think towards the end maybe we might talk with some good examples of partnerships and maybe we can come back to that. Uh, because I do have a good example. 

But it is difficult. So out of those three categories, grants, matching/giving and volunteering, the least interesting to companies or to nonprofits is volunteering. And yet it’s, it holds the most potential because the other two, they really want to stay transactional. 

And they allow a lot of employees to objectify the community you are working with as “them.” I’m helping “them” with their problem. I’m sending some of my money because I have, and I want to give back to those people who are a deficit.  

That that can easily become an objectifying relationship. And there’s not a lot of reciprocity in that. Now, I’m not saying not to do it. I think, and nonprofits on the call are thinking “Oh man, I just need the money. Like gimme the money!” 

Honestly, the money, it’s top of mind all the time, right? There are people who depend on it. The cause and the mission depends on it. So don’t mess it up. I get that. But if you can cultivate donors through volunteering, you’ve got board members, you’ve got people who will, not everyone but people who will live and die for this issue. 

And that’s when I say nation builders. As people become aware, the issues become connected, start to move from I’m helping “them” with “their” problem to “together we’re going to bear the burden of this and solve it together.”  

That mindset will revolutionize anything that we’re trying to address. But it’s definitely feels like the long way around. Because if you gave me a check for a million dollars, forget about it. I’ll hire a bunch of people, we’ll get it done next week. But it doesn’t work that way. You can’t buy your way out of these issues.  

Tobi: It’s the short-term versus the long-term thinking too, because volunteering, as I mentioned early on, the company that came and volunteered, then all of a sudden we got a grant without even writing an application, right? 

We got a donation from them. If those volunteers are on our mailing list, they’re gonna get our annual appeal. They’re going to donate. You know what I mean? So you’re building the foundation for all of these other things to happen. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, right? 

Chris: And this is the approach that changes a society. So everyone had to kind of get on board with. Smoking isn’t prefered. I mean, you watch Mad Men, you can smoke anywhere in planes. Do you remember being on planes, sitting behind the smoking section, Tobi?   

Tobi: I remember being on a plane and like the ashtray had cigarette butts in it. Now I’m dating myself. But you could flip it open. You could flip it open and there it was…oh no.  

Chris: Every car came with ashtrays in the handles on the side. There were ashtrays everywhere because it was just considered normal. It is not now. Can you imagine buying a car and saying, what’s this? Oh, it’s an ashtray.  

It’s almost become immoral. But that level of shift is how we address environmental and social issues. Anything less than that or it’s just sort of whack-a-mole.  

Tobi: Yeah. I was just having a conversation with somebody today about advocacy work. You know, it’s easier for volunteers to get involved with direct service work and see, okay, I can see a smile on the person I’m helping face. 

I can see relief come across their face. I can see them realize they’re gonna save X amount of dollars with, you know, whatever. When you’re working as an advocacy volunteer, like recently we passed a law in the US where Medicare can now negotiate with big pharma around the cost of prescription drugs. 

And I can tell you that that was decades in the making because I’ve been a healthcare advocate for a long time. I’ve worked in and also been on boards and also volunteered, and that was decades in the making.  

You know, when it finally happened, it was like – and you never know what it’s gonna happen. So it’s interesting, this kind of short-term versus long-term perspective, and I am in total agreement with you. 

The sheer gravity of the issues facing society and the world as a whole are intense. And they are never going to be solved by one sector. It’s just not gonna happen in today’s world.  

Chris: Right. No.  

Tobi: You know, poverty, climate change, racial divisions, you know, class divisions. I mean, all these things, just, they, they just can’t. They, we folks have been working on these for a while now, you know? And it’s just not gonna happen until we can work together to make it happen.  

And we’re gonna take a break now, and I wanna get into after the break, get into some of the nuts and bolts of this and how organizations, what kind of key takeaways and practically, what steps they might take. 

So we’ll do that right after the break, so don’t go anywhere. We’ll be right back after this break with more on how CSR is evolving, but more importantly, how non-profits can really tap the power of these types of relationships with our friend Chris Jarvis. Stay tuned.  

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Tobi: Okay, we’re back with our discussion with Chris Jarvis about the topic of corporate social responsibility and how nonprofits can leverage this powerful resource in a way that really benefits them as much as it benefits their corporate partner.  

What do you think are some of the most effective or exciting partnerships you’ve seen lately, Chris, and how are they moving the needle in any way? I know we just talked about the needles before break. We talked about how the needle’s really hard to move, but let’s hear about some bright spots that you’ve been coming across lately are working with.  

Chris: So, my bright spots are definitely colored by the way I see the world. So as I’ve said, the win for me is when an individual through the experience with the non-profit. So the non-profit, typically I think of non-profits and community organizations as gatekeepers, right?  

So they know a community or they understand an issue, there’s some competency, or at least they have some experience and they’re getting more competent as they go, right? They might not be the expert, but they’re in it, right? 

The win is when an individual citizen has an experience with that organization and as a result, they have a perspective change. So how they see themselves in the world, the role they play, where they fit, what they’re contributing to. Am I actually part of the problem? Could I be a part of the solution? What do I have to that perspective change?  

That’s the first thing. That’s a psychological change how I see myself in the world. Okay? Psychological change. Second one is convictional change. Convictional change beyond the psychology of my own identity and what now it means to me and who I am. 

Convictional change are all the fundamentals and beliefs with which you see the world. So, you know, we inherit some of them. Some of them are DNA, some of them are based on when we were born, how we were born, who we were born to be, all of that kind of thing. And we have these set of beliefs. 

And I think, you know, it’s funny if you read, if you’ve done any reading about Greek philosophers. I remember when I took philosophy, I was shocked at how much of the world , what I believed about the world was based on a Greek gentleman who died 2,500 years ago, right?  

Thinking, wait, they just moved out of caves. Uh, good on them for democracy, but I’m gonna raise my hand to say, uh, wait a minute here. Now geniuses, I get all of that. I do. I get, I understand that. But yeah, we did inherit through a process of evolution, DNA and teaching and training and sociology – uh, sorry, society – and whatnot. We have that.  

We wake up through all these beliefs and some of them we hold very dearly because they’re connected to our identity, but they have nothing to do necessarily with their identity. They’re just a belief that we accepted.  

So when I get involved with my unhoused neighbors…so, some of my neighbors own homes here in Fells Point, and some of my neighbors do not own homes in Fells Point. they are all neighbors. And we’re trying to move away from even the term homeless, right?  

To say “I’m normal, but they’re homeless.” That’s what we gotta get away from. If I could just change my language, because all of a sudden I had an experience with one of my neighbors through a non-profit or a person in the community with a non-profit, and I ask a question, wait, why are they homeless? 

I thought they just were lazy or drunk all the time. I thought they didn’t wanna work. And I meet Bob, who is the hardest worker. He’s a squeegy guy. He works 10 hour days. The guy’s on a hustle. He’s got a sick mom. He has to get back to all the time.  

He’s back and forth. He does not have a driver’s license. He has to skirt the gangs back and forth. That gentleman works harder in a week that I’ve worked in a month. So that belief was wrong. Now, what do I do? That’s called a disorienting dilemma. When my expectations don’t meet my experience and that moment, I can start to ask the first question which is, wait, do I know everything about this? 

Have I not been told everything about what’s going on? So a psychological change, a convictional change. And then we look for that behavioral change, which is how I act in the world. And this is the only one you can see. And it’s kind of lived out and it, and in stage one, it’s lived out rather wonkily and awkwardly. 

And in stage two of volunteering is I’m more invested. Maybe I’m doing about 50 hours a year. I’m kind of like, now I’ve got an opinion because I’m not just showing up to help Tobi with her thing. I’m in this too.  

This is my thing. This is about me. And if you think about a relationship where you are dating, the first few dates, Tobi, and you’re looking at the person across the table and can do no wrong, they’re so interesting. The way they bite their nails is so cute. Everything’s adorable.  

Two years later, oh my goodness. Will you stop biting your nails in the movie theater, all the time with the biting nails! Drive me nuts. What happened? Well you merged identities and you moved from extrinsically motivated and this is all new and it’s fascinating, to something – it’s kind of an extension of you and who you are and your values.  

And so that second stage, people are difficult to work with. Volunteers have an opinion, but it’s uninformed, but that’s where the most potential is. If you can cultivate them by appealing to, in the last stages of third stage individuals who you know, this is just unhoused neighbors. I’ve been working with unhoused neighbors for 30 years,  

Call the homeless unhoused. I don’t care. I know hundred people here by name. I know what’s going on. I don’t get paid to do it. Nobody reminds me to do it. I’m putting in about 400 hours, but this is who I am. And that third stage person, there’s very few of them around any particular area.  

They need to be invited to develop the second stage and together create some space where people can just come in, show up and for the first time have their first real experience with homelessness or unhoused folks in Baltimore, because most of us avoid it. 

It’s just, why would we dive into that? So that, when I talked earlier in the show about cultivating people and developing them – by the time they hit stage two and three, they’re going to spend their money or donate the same way they buy other things.  

I buy things at clothes that I like and shoes that, and tech that reflects me and my sensibilities. I’m also going to take my money and buy good the same way. It’s fascinating what people will invest in, and it’s not helping you with your problem. They’re investing in themselves at that point.  

Tobi: It’s interesting when you hear nonprofits talk about people who are in that third stage, because once you’ve done the work, you’ve gone through the transformation. You’re not only accountable to it, it’s part of your value set and your belief set.  

Now your beliefs have been challenged, that’s your biases. In stage two, you’re sort of like, huh. You know, I think figuring out these people, even your fellow volunteers. 

Oh, these people aren’t like I thought they were. I mean, I volunteer with people who are very different than me, and yet we have shared understanding because we have some values in common that we work towards the greater good with our values in common.  

And we don’t have to share, we understand we don’t have to share every value, which is the way people are operating in public nowadays is you must share every value. Otherwise you are not on their team.  And they’re not on your team and we’re on, you know, and which is a problem.  

Chris: The common spaces that we can create to meet people in commonalities that, like you just said, how would you say it? That are kind of beyond the, what we would like what political affiliation when you go mosque or temple? 

Because there are some things that you can share that can really knit you together and open you up to explore a broader set of perspectives that could be really transformative. That is a great observation. I hardly remember to mention it, Tobi.  

Tobi: Yeah. I mean, we’ve had conversations, for example, about reproductive rights. There are differing views on our volunteer team, on the team I work with, with my fellow volunteers. And we are, we don’t even have to say, hey, well we agree to disagree. We don’t even go to that point.  

We go, I hear where you’re coming from. When you’re a tightly knit team working together towards something and you have established some semblance of success in it, success binds you together as well. It does.  

And we comment now…I just had everybody over for lunch on Sunday. This has been a luncheon two years in the making. And I’m finally like, right gang, come over. Let’s finally do our pot potluck. Come on over, we’re gonna do it. 

And you know, we start talking about, and we were like, you know what, this is really fun! It feels good to be on our team. And we say that to one another, and we are wildly different people. We look different. We vote different, You know, there’s only a few place ways to vote, but be that as it may, but back to this point of the stage three folks. 

You know, you’ll hear nonprofits say, oh, we have these entitled volunteers. You know, where they really wanna have a say and they have a strong opinion, not only about the cause but about how the organization should approach that cause. 

It’s a type of psychological contract where when you’ve put in this many hours and you’ve got gone through your own transformation and you are all in, all the chips are pushed into the middle of the table that you’re like, look, I also see some areas where we need to improve as an organization or we need to walk the talk or whatever it is. 

And I’m gonna tell you about it because I’ve earned the right to do so. And then the nonprofit will say, well, we have these entitled volunteers. And I’m like, well, good for you! You want those entitled volunteers because they’re like a thousand percent in.  

Have the conversation, have the challenging conversation with them about how you can improve together and partner, you know. But I’ll hear this like, well, we have these entitled. Well, what do you expect when people are giving so much of themselves?  

Chris: Yeah. You know, they pretty much feel like this is their thing and what’s more is they know you’re getting paid and they’re not. Right? And they may be working…one of our stage three individuals was volunteering 931 hours. 

That was the highest number I found until I read a website where they profiled a stage three at 1043 hours in a year. And they had a fulltime job. So the thing with twos, second stage.  

So first stage. Okay. When a company shows up, 70% of the folks who show up are gonna be stage one. They’re there because the manager asked ’em, the girlfriend, and asked them to go. It was a day outta the office.  

They’re extrinsically motivated. Do they know what homelessness is or street life or unhoused issues are? Nope. Never considered it before. Didn’t even read the memo on the way there. You know what they need? A good experience, that’s all. 

They do not…I know from being on the non-profit side, when I see 20 people walk through the door, I think, oh my goodness. Look at all the donors. We could build a relationship. Some of them could help me with this. I’ve heard this.  

I’ll give you an example. A number of folks came to an inner city after-school program from a company, and as the person was doing a brief, which turned into kind of more of a lecture, but I get, I got why she was saying what she was saying. 

She said, “You know, you’re here to volunteer and to learn. We want you to sign up for this program. It’s two hours every Thursday afternoon every week. You’re gonna be here every week for the six months that the program’s running. If you can’t commit to that, I need you to leave right now because these kids struggle with consistent adult presence in their life. And the last thing I’m gonna do to them is introduce some other adult who’s just gonna say, ‘You know what? I’m too busy for you and walk out.’” 

I got that. But I also got the terror on the individuals’ faces who were sitting in an inner city school thinking, what are we talking about? I don’t, I’ve never mentored, I don’t understand what’s going on in this school. I feel afraid.  

It’s like showing up on a blind date with a prenup. It’s too much, too fast.  Let me understand a little bit, so on, in our first stage space, Thanks for coming. That’s it. You don’t have to give, you do nothing. 

We pay attention to people say, Is there more? Oh, is there more? Yeah, we’re doing this again. Or you can come back and those people may be interested in going to the second stage. And that’s where they move from casual curiosity to something we call meaningful discovery.  

They can’t articulate it, but man oh man, it matters. And I think a lot of the troublesome volunteers out there are, they were for me, are twos. They’re just like emotionally engaged and all for it.  

They don’t get the vocab, they have not read all the material. They haven’t had your life experience of 30 years. They don’t know really what they’re talking about, but they want to be a part of it so bad. They just are saying the wrong things.  

If you can, like you suggested Tobi, interpret that as a signal to say, I’m in on this if you want me, then you can see them a little differently. So we had a gentleman who kept coming back and this was a committee meal back in Halifax and he said, “You know, I, I don’t think the cloak room is well set up.” 

And I said, “Oh, what would you do differently?” And he explained it. I said, “Okay, you’re in charge of the cloak room now.” He had come back enough. I knew what he needed. It’s gonna be stage two people. Let them take charge of something; that’s all they want.  

And stage threes, we burned them out so bad they…We can count on them. So can you show up early? Can you stay late? Can you find more? Can you do more? But they never get a leadership position on the board.  

And for some reason we bring in a bank executive who knows nothing about this at all. And he’s the chair of the board. That’s insanity. That is the worst thing for your community. Put threes on your board, help them develop twos, let twos run things, and together create a great experience so people can fall in love with you and your community.  

Tobi: It’s an exceptional leadership pipeline model. Really, you know?  

Chris: Yeah. And not all ones go. Like 70% of those employees are gonna be stage one. 25% are gonna probably be stage two, but not with your issue. And only about 5% are ever gonna be a stage three all-in kind of thing.  

But the point is to have space in your program where that can happen. And I think with volunteering, we tend to think – what did you say? – we we’re looking a little short term. 

We’re like, they’re here. How do I get what I need right now? Because I need it right now. And I get that. I totally get that. But if we could take a long view, it could be wildly different.  

Tobi: Well, no, and nobody has this type of – this just came to me. If you think about development, the fundraising side of the house and individual donors, nobody thinks, well, we’re not gonna have this big mailing list because only a small percentage of those folks actually make a financial contribution.  

So they don’t think of, they don’t say like, well you know, it’s not worth it for us to cultivate this huge mailing list of people. We’re not gonna do that because it doesn’t, only if small percentage of those people actually donate . 

But that is the frame of mind when, well we’re not gonna involve, we’re not gonna bring a corporate team on board to do a day of service or whatever, because it’s just not a good ROI for us. Right?  

But they’ll do that with volunteerism, but they will not do that with. And maybe it takes, I believe it does take less work in some ways. The fundraising in the world will say, are you kidding me? It takes! But people, one on one people.  

I’m not talking about large donations or capital campaigns, y’all, I’m talking about individual giving that, you know, cultivating volunteers to developing relationships with people and doing it well is hard work. It is, but it’s worth it, right?  

Chris: Yeah. It is worth it. And listen, getting back to corporate social responsibility, there’s about $4 billion on the table that you can access through volunteers. It’s a little bit harder. But we can talk about matching programs and we can talk about where, what nonprofits can do to access some of these funds and how they can be more visible in getting them. 

But that is the estimate, $4 to $7 billion annually is not claimed by nonprofits, but is earmarked for them in corporate social responsibility programs through matching programs, either giving, but volunteering is a massive part of that equation.  

Tobi: So let’s talk about how to do that. So folks…now we’ve got people’s attention. Wait, what?! And they’re like, wait! I gotta pull the car over and pull out the pad of paper. Chris, tell us how to get this money! 

So how do nonprofits position themselves to be beneficiaries of these kinds of resources? I, Let’s get into it. Let’s do some tactical. 

Chris: All right. So we did some work with Microsoft in the previous decade. We’re still big fans of theirs. So, they give per person a ton of cash and have one of the best citizenship engaging employees programs out there, hands down. And it’s all thanks to Bill Gates’ mom, but that’s a story for another day. 

And they will match volunteering. So if you do an hour of volunteering, you get $25 in your little account. If I did 10 hours, I get $250. And that goes all the way up to, I don’t know what their cap is, but companies will have a cap of 5,000, 10, 15, sometimes $50,000 that they’ll match, right?  

And so if I do this time with an organization, say that little community kitchen in Halifax and I spent 20 hours over the year there, I could take all of those funds in my little account and give them to that organization. 

Now I may give them to my friend who’s raising money or works at a nonprofit or somebody else that I have a connection with, but I’m probably going to seriously consider giving the lion share, if not all of it, to the organization where I earned it to give to.   

Some companies, the old version was you have to volunteer 40 hours and we’ll give you a hundred bucks or 200 bucks that you hardly see that. That’s really old school. Don’t bother with them. They’re, they’re too hard and they don’t have much participation anyways, typically.  

But companies that are more on their leading side, say Microsoft or Apple, we give you a whole list. Actually, I can send you a list of all the companies or are some websites where the match you can discover matching,  

Tobi: Oh, let’s put ’em in the show notes. 

Chris: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ll send that to you for sure. If a company comes or an individual comes, and you just did a poll at the beginning, anybody here from Siemens? Anybody here from Intel? Anybody here from Intuit and put up their hands?  

Okay. All of you for your volunteering hours today, you’re doing gonna do 10 hours today? Thank you for such a long day. Hopefully nobody’s volunteering for 10 hours, but whatever. Math is hard. You’re all before match.  

For example, over there, Microsoft, I know that your 10 hours earns 250. We would love you to consider making donation to us after today if we’ve earned your, if we’ve earned your interest.  

Guess how many nonprofits do a brief, number one. And number two, do a brief and include that little caveat and then follow up with people afterwards. Very, very…I’ve never seen it, to be honest.  

And that’s because when I’m in a room of 150 people here in DC four years ago, and I say, has anybody heard of Dollar for Doers, two people put up their hand. When I asked how many people have ever received money, nobody put up their hand. 

And that’s where the $4 to $7 billion is. Then you think about, well, there’s the matching giving too, right? And that is if I make a donation on my credit card or I match on my payroll, or I make a one time donation during a part of the year, the company will match one to one.  

Apple, for example, during Martin Luther King period, like usually it’s about a month, they will, they have matched three to one before. Gates Foundation matches three to one.  

But guess where people think they send that? Where they volunteered like it. Most people just don’t have top of mind. A whole list of non-profits and issues were just not that insightful. And with almost one and a half million non-profits in the United States, I think it’s 1.4.  

There’s more non-profits in France, by the way. Just a weird fact. Give people the experience. If they love you, they have multiple angles to give to you. And if you help just a little, I promise you the CSR manager will be happy too, because they are frustrated.  

People aren’t recording their hours so they can match ’em and get the money out to the community. And so that money just goes unclaimed year over year, over year.  

Tobi: Yeah. I mean, you’re doing the corporation a favor too, because they can brag on it.  

Chris: You are absolutely.  

Tobi: You’re giving them PR, free PR. You’re their partner. It’s a win-win.  

Chris: You’re helping people have that psychological, convictional and behavioral change. You are bringing prosocial insights back to teamwork. You’re helping people reconsider their hard held beliefs that they didn’t even know they held about gender differences and what people should be paid. 

And you can get people to that active place where all of a sudden, you know, why do we have smoking on planes? That can’t be okay. Right? But until somebody says, is that okay? And through an experience it, things aren’t gonna change.  

So nonprofits are gatekeepers to the future of the country, and they are partners rather than just receivers of contributions. They are partners in developing the culture of that company. That’s what they are.  

Tobi: Yeah. They’re not necessarily the only people who are responsible or the only entities or only sector that’s responsible, but they’re a big part of building community and rebuilding community after this pandemic, because they are experts in community more than anybody else, you know? 

So it’s an interesting conversation about what their role might be in that. But that’s for another time.  

Chris: Well, and just one last thought on that. The United States leans so heavily because they’re of an absence of a developed nation’s social net. Like there’s not the same kind of advanced safety net, social net in the United States.  

You can still fall off the wagon if you get sick. You can just be generationally poor right now for the next generation. Next generation. We just had somebody on our podcast, The Disorienting dilemma. Andy Reid, and he recounted his story how his sister got sick and his dad had gotten a raise.  

$5 an hour raise the month before. And they said, sorry, you’re out. You can’t, you make too much money. And they lost. They lost everything. Lost everything. And then he lived in his car for a while.  

So the United States leans heavily on non-profits, and I think there’s a place for nonprofits to say, if this nation, if this republic cannot operate or keep its citizens safe without us, we need to step up and be seen that way and present ourselves that way. 

Tobi: Yes. And present ourselves that way. And that goes for volunteer services departments as well. Like if we are, if volunteerism is developing stakeholders that can be long term supporters of our organization, our mission, et cetera, whether or not they’re contributing time, then that needs to be treated as such, needs to be presented as such. 

Well, lLet’s talk quickly. I know we’re almost at the top of the hour, and we’ve had such a great conversation.  

Chris: It’s fun. Yeah. 

Tobi: It’s totally fun to hear your perspectives and there’s a lot of similarities to things I’ve been thinking about, especially as we build back from this pandemic, like how critical it is that our communities, that we really do break down some barriers and get out there, and start breaking our own biases, busting our own myths about each other, because it’s just…if we can’t learn to work and, you know, volunteerism is a great place to learn how to work together too.   

Chris: Going back to what you said, because I find a way to connect to somebody else beyond the typical, “oh, they’re not me.” All of a sudden, somebody who voted for Trump also believes in this and is for me, or somebody who voted for Trump looks at me and says,”Wait, you were gonna vote for Hillary Clinton?” 

All of that kind of becomes secondary as we’re serving meals and we really care about this issue. All just like you said, I’m more open to even understanding where you’re coming from because apparently we’re very similar. Right?  

Tobi: People are similar. Us.  

Chris: More than we know. And the us and them issue, we will lose the planet. If this species, the homo sapiens cannot get their act together, we are gonna destroy for every other species on this planet.  

We’re gonna lose it with this feral evolutionary default of they’re not me and I’m afraid of them, the stranger, the other. That’s gonna undo us.  

Tobi: Exactly. And it’s so interesting because we have a primal brain and we are, our primal brain still takes over and fears the other. And is clan like, wants to stay with the clan.  

It leans away from difference until we learn that difference is actually pretty cool, you know? Then we might lean into it because some of us do lean into different, some of us enjoy it, like absolutely there, really, really enjoy that. There’s joy in diversity. 

I like to talk about that, gang. We forget that there’s joy in diversity. There’s joy in discovering other people for who they are. There is a joy in that when you lean into it and when you get comfortable. Maybe being a little uncomfortable from time to time.  

So there. We’re hardwired to be this way, but we’re also learning so much more about human consciousness and how we can actually hack some of our hardwiring. So through meditation, mindfulness, et cetera, we can reduce our level of fear and anxiety.  

So I feel like we’re at this cusp of human consciousness where, you know, we’ve got to put some type of structure in place to have people have these reflective moments. Volunteerism is a great place. It’s non monetized except for, you know, donations, et cetera. 

But it’s an unmonetized space in our minds. And it’s a space for collective doing across border, I don’t know, across communities. I don’t know where else that’s happening really in the world at large.  

Chris: I think it only happens in these spaces. I think where we come to a place. We’re all kind of on the same level as volunteers. All of a sudden, I’m the CEO, they’re the assistant, this is the guy who drives the trucks and not one of us knows anything about what we’re about to do.  

Not one of us knows what to do if we were in charge. Not one of us. We are all just…We look the same as we entered into the world and we are gonna leave the world, because none of this stuff that we drape ourselves with while we’re here matters. 

And volunteering is this thin space. The Celtics call it thin space – not volunteering, but they have this thing about liminality that’s like the threshold between outdoors and indoors.  

It’s the beach between the water and the land. It’s the dusk and the dawn between night and day. That liminality that not quite there, but not there either. That in-between thin space, they felt that that thin space presented us with an opportunity.  

They would never say it like this. A sort of a tear in time and space. And you could see the awe. Awe, like on a magnificent tree, a mountain, something that just reminded you what, how big and what life is really about beyond the smallness of the day. 

And we’ve all experienced it. If any of us have fallen in love, you’ve experienced awe, right? If you’ve had a baby, you’ve experienced awe. If someone died and you’re in the car driving to the funeral home and you pass everybody and they’re just acting like nothing happened, and you’re shaking your head like, don’t you know, this world will never be the same. 

That’s a moment for awe for us to remember what it’s all about and what really matters, what our contribution is. And volunteering. Not every time, not all the time, but much of the time, it can be a place where awe can happen and we can be raised up and see our togetherness, and experience a way of living that that can’t be found other places usually. 

Tobi: And there’s absolute research around dopamine, for example. There’s actual hormones that are happening in these moments of awe that can you, the more you feel it, the more you want it.  

Chris: That’s right, yeah. So volunteering isn’t emotional. If your volunteering program doesn’t leave people emotional at some level, you’re doing it wrong. I don’t care if it’s, we did a thing stuffing envelopes.  

At a conference once – you know how conferences they have these little in-house volunteering bags, that kind of thing. Any of that can be transformative, any of it. You do a brief at the front end, a debrief at the back end. You present people with a disorienting dilemma. 

An example of one at a soup kitchen would be, we’re not going to solve the poor. They’re not a problem to be fixed, and we’re not actually going to make a dent in nutrition. That’s not what we’re here for. You’re just here to meet some folks that you never get to meet and they’re here to give you a gift. 

Now there’s a whole thing I could do and we don’t have enough time, but all of a sudden people hear that and they think, what? So we’re at this conference and we’re putting these envelopes in, and they did a brief while we started and they brought in a gentleman.  

These, uh, they were swabs. And you would take the swab and you would swab yourself. We’re all familiar with this now, put it back in, and they would see if you were a bone marrow transplant. Like a bone marrow match for somebody who needed bone marrow.  

And this guy came up, and he said why he did it. And then the guy came up who’s alive because he did it.  

Tobi: Yeah. Storytelling. Forget about it.  

Chris: Yeah, forget about it. People still talk about stuffing envelopes with a Q-tip. It was emotional. So if your volunteering isn’t leaving people, not like weeping or anything, but some sort of emotion, joy, anything, just like you said Tobi. You need to tag it with the emotion for it to stick and for it to change the way your default.  

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. Chris, this has been amazing. You know, just so everybody knows, I sent Chris a bunch of questions. We went… 

Chris: Did I ruin it? I ruined… 

Tobi: You did not ruin anything. I love it. We waxed philosophic big time, but so inspiring. I mean, if we really wanna think about, you know, when you think about transactional versus transformative. 

When I said, when I introduced you at the very beginning, I said, he is not kidding when he says he’s about transformation. A lot of people use the term transformation and they throw it around like crazy.  

But it really is about transformation. And transformations starts with emotion. It starts with self-reflection and noticing that emotion, and then making meaning of that emotion.  

Chris: Exactly, yes. You know, and need to bring the right meaning. And that’s the volunteer manager, that’s the organization. We’re all gonna make sense after with whatever we’ve got to work with.  

And it’s usually really bad information. So I really need you not to tell me what to think, but give me enough to inform my sense-making process so I can have that psychological change. I can have that convictional change and then maybe I’ll have a behavioral change.  

Tobi: Yes, absolutely. And I’m not even gonna say more of that because that is a great place to end on. But I do wanna ask you one more question because I love to ask this question at the end. And I appreciate so much you spending time with me and I hope this really widens and expands people’s thoughts about the power of volunteerism. 

How it can really be transformational and is. It’s not that it can be, it’s that it already is. It’s either tiny transformation with a “t” or a big transformation with a big “T”. And you know, it’s up to you to design and experience. If you’re the leader of volunteers to design and experience, to have that big “T” happen. 

Chris: How many people when you’re gone will carry it on for you. That’s the question.  

Tobi: Yeah. So it’s been fantastic. One last question, and I know you’re gonna have some great answer to this, but what are you most excited about in the year ahead?  

Chris: Ugh. We’re doing some really, you know what…to be honest, it’s what I’m gonna learn. Every year at the end of the year, I think, how did I do any of this without knowing that? 

Like, there’s always something. Last year or the year before, it was kind of behavioral science, nudge theory, and then you kind of put some things together and you bring that to bear and it’s the,”Oh my gosh. This is really cool.”  

How can that be a part of what we’re doing? That’s really good. And I do, I feel bad, Tobi, I do have an experience with skill-based volunteering that I was gonna share, but we’re out of time, so maybe we’ll have to do it on a second show.  

We can do, I know we’re gonna have to do getting the 7 billion or something. I don’t know. Yeah. We have to do.  

Tobi: Yeah. How to get that set. Get your hands on that 7 billion. We’ll do it totally practical. I’ll invite you back. But for now, how can people get in touch, learn more about your work? We’ll put stuff in the show notes, of course. And I would love it if you’d send us a list so people can kind of refer and like, look for corps in their local area. 

Chris: I will. Places they could reach out. Yeah, so these will be little websites where you type in the name of the company and you can see what their program is.  

But you’ve gotta do the work to find out where do people work when they come here. And you can just do that at the beginning and follow up afterwards, but they’ll, you’ll get some tools that that will make this whole process far less mystical. 

Tobi: Yeah. Awesome.  

Chris: Oh, what, uh…reach out to me. Connect to me on LinkedIn. Love to chat, talk to you. No problem. Email me, whatever. Check out a website, realize we’re dot com. Uh, it’s all in show notes. Doesn’t matter. Uh, just reach out. I’d love to help. This is what I’m, this is why I’m here.  

Tobi: Awesome. Awesome. This has been so much fun. We will keep in touch, of course. And thank you so much for all the inspirational thinking and just expanding the way we think about volunteerism. I think it’s time.  

Chris: Thank you. And it was great to be, this is an important show. I love that it’s called Volunteer Nation and just help your audience after listening, “Oh no. I have a really important job!”  

Tobi: Yes, you do. And it’s awesome. We get to do it.  

Chris: Yep, exactly. Just don’t mess up!  

Tobi: Yeah. With that, we’ll see y’all later. Join us next week, same time, same place on the Volunteer Nation. If you like what we’ve talked about today, please share with a friend or a colleague and if you would rate and review if it puts us in front of more eyeballs, so we’d love to get the word out about our podcast. Thanks for joining us. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause.  

For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at TobiJohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.